Posts Tagged ‘Aircraft’

Prof Simon on the Technology of Blade Runner that Exists Today

November 7, 2019

This is another fascinating video from Professor Simon Holland. As I said in an earlier blog piece, November 2019 is the date Ridley Scott’s SF classic Blade Runner is set, based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Prof Simon here examines some of the technology that has now been developed, which is similar to that of the movie. This includes robots, flying cars and ‘a polaroid which allows you to see round corners’.

He begins with robots, stating that most of them have been developed by the pornography industry. These are the Real Dolls, androids which have been designed to look like real women. There’s a few photographs of these, shown with their owners or manufacturers. Mercifully, both have their clothes on. But some have also been developed by the military, and these, Prof Simon says, comparing them to Blade Runner’s replicants, are scarier. The robots shown at this point are the humanoid – roughly – and quadrupedal machines developed by the American firm, Boston Dynamics. A gun-toting humanoid robot shows its shooting skills in a range out in the deserts. Despite being repeatedly struck and pushed over by a man with a hockey stick, the robot manages to hit its target. When the pistol it’s using runs out of ammo, they throw it a rifle, which it catches with both hands and then proceeds to use. Another humanoid robot is shown carefully walking along a stony path simulating rough terrain, while one is also shown trying to pick up a box while another man with a hockey stick knocks the box away and tries to knock the robot over.  The quadrupedal robots include the Big Dog machine and related robots, which got their name because they look somewhat like headless mechanical dogs. Big Dog was designed for carrying equipment, and one is shown with four saddlebags walking around trying not to be forced over. Two lines of similar machines are shown pulling a truck.

The ‘polaroid that sees round corners’ is also shown, and it appears to be a mobile app. He also shows photographs of a number of flying cars that have been developed. As for the taxis on demand that appear in the movie, he quips that he’ll just call Uber.

But he also raises the important point about why our expectations of the future are inaccurate. He argues that it’s because we’ve forgotten how very different the world was back in the 1960s when the book was written. This is shown through another set of photographs of the fashion of the period, though I think they come more from the 1970s. Certain the pic of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from Saturday Night Fever does. He goes on to point out how we have technology that was unknown when he was growing up – computers are everywhere and cursive handwriting a thing of the past. We evolve into the future, rather than making quantum leaps into it. He also cheerfully observes that he shares a Blade Runner obsession with his younger, near-lookalike, Adam Savage.

At the end of the video he examines an interesting photo he’s been sent by a viewer. This is a photo of the Earth from space, with a mark that looks like a UFO. But it isn’t. Unlike today’s digital cameras, those used by the astronauts used photosensitive film, which could get marked and spoiled by dust. This is what’s happened to the photo here.

Prof Simon is a genial, entertaining host, and it’s fascinating that some of the technology featured in Blade Runner is being developed. Scientists and engineers have been working on the flying cars since the 1990s, and one of the tech firms has said that they intend to put them into service as flying taxis next year. This seems unlikely. Critics have pointed out that the noise generated by their engines would be colossal, making their use very unpopular. Living in a city in which they were in general operation would be like living in an airport. The SF artist and book illustrator, Jim Burns, also comments on one of his paintings, which show such cars in use, that there are prohibitive safety aspects. What about accidents? Nobody would like to be around when it starts raining bits of aircar and body parts.

The robots we’ve developed are different from Blade Runner’s replicants, which are artificial, genetically engineered creatures, and therefore biological rather than simply technological. We’re nowhere near creating anything that complex. The military robots instead remind me of the machines from Robocop and the ABC Warrior from the ’90s movie, Judge Dredd, in which Megacity 1’s toughest lawman was played by Sylvester Stallone, as well as the robots in Chappie, which came out a few years ago. Despite the very impressive sophistication of these machines, however, they mercifully aren’t as intelligent as humans. This means we don’t have to worry about the world of 2000 AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ or the Terminator movies becoming reality quite yet. But even so, watching these machines walk, move and shoot is disturbing, demonstrating their lethal potential and efficiency as fighting machines. Looking at them, I think the fears many scientists and members of the lay public have about them as a potential threat to the human race are justified.

Prof Simon on B2 Stealth Plane and Anti-Gravity Technology

October 31, 2019

I was discussing the possibility of anti-gravity technology with Trev, one of the great commenters to this blog, in the comments below a previous post about space technology. I understand that the vast majority of physicists believe it’s impossible, but that hasn’t prevented rumours circulating that it really exists.

In this video, Professor Simon Holland talks about the possible use of electro-gravitic technology in the B2 Stealth Plane. The aircraft apparently uses the Byfield-Brown effect to give itself lift. The effect was first discovered in the 1920 by Thomas Townsett Byfield, who was experimenting with X-rays. He found that a very high electric charge sent across an object reduced its weight. In the B2 a very high electric charge also runs across the leading edge of its wings, according to material released in 2003. This ionises the air around the plane, which becomes very hot and generates extra lift. Prof Simon shows footage of a Russian experiment which purports to show it working in a test model. But the American Army Research Laboratory tested the effect, and found that it was at least 3 times too weak to work. But other researchers claim that it does, and electricity is somehow related to gravity.

Some of the supposed information about the plane comes from Minutiae, which from the picture in the video appears to be a New Age magazine or blog. It’s claims about the technology may therefore be highly questionable.

However, experiments last year or so with a model plane showed that ionised air can be used to give aircraft extra lift and to fly further. That experiment stated that this was a technology that could be used in the future, indicating that it wasn’t being used on existing craft. This video suggests otherwise, at least in the case of the Stealth plane.

RAF Pilot Set to Join Branson Satellite Programme

October 6, 2019

There were a couple of really great, fascinating science stories in Friday’s I newspaper, which I’d like to cover before I get to the political stuff of attacking and refuting Boris Johnson, the Tories, and other right-wing nonsense.

One of these was the report that the RAF had selected a pilot to join the crews set to fly Cosmic Girl, an adapted 747 developed by Branson’s company, Virgin Orbit, send satellites into space. The article by Ewan Somerville, titled ‘RAF pilot gets space wings as first to join satellite programme’ on page 15 of the newspaper for Friday, 4th October 2019, ran

The Royal Air Force is heading for new heights after selecting its first pilot to join a space programme.

Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard has been assigned to a new £30m Ministry of Defence project. He will swap the cockpit of a Typhoon jet to fly a modified 747-400 plane, called Cosmic Girl, to launch satellites into orbit from mid-air, marking a “significant step” for British space endeavours.

A partnership between the RAF and space company Virgin Orbit to develop space technology, a response to billions of dollars being spent by the US, China and India, was unveiled at the Air Space Power conference in July.

Flt Lt Stannard hailed the programme a “truly unique opportunity” adding: “This programme is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of space so it’s a real privilege to be part of it and I’m looking forward to bring the skills and knowledge I gain back to the RAF.”

Over three years, Flt Lt Stannard will join several test pilots to send satellites into space from 30,000ft using a launcher attached to the Boeing 747’s fuselage. Freed from the need to launch from the ground, hi-tech satellites, developed by Britain, weighing only 300kg and described by Flt Lt Stannard as “the size of a washing machine”, could be launched from anywhere worldwide.

The RAF already has a similar small satellite, Carbonite 2, in orbit and plans for a “constellation” of them to provide HD imaging, video and secure communications. 

The mission is design to ensure Britain is not target by foreign powers for lacking its own space capabilities. It comes as the UK is due to send eight military personnel to join Operation Olympic Defender, a US-led coalition to deter “hostile acts in space” over the next 12 months.

I’m another British satellite launcher is being developed, even if the plane is made by Boeing, an American company. I’m also glad that the RAF have supplied an officer, as previous efforts to get a Brit into space have been hampered by squabbling within the armed forces. Before Helen Sharman became the first British person to go into space with the Russians to Mir, Britain was offered the opportunity by the Americans of sending an astronaut to go aboard the space shuttle. The army, air force and navy all put their men forward, and the scheme failed because of the wrangling over which one should be chosen.

I am not, however, altogether optimistic about this project as it’s a space company owned by Beardie Branson. How long has his company, Virgin Galactic, been claiming that ‘next year’ they’ll send the first tourists into space? Since the 1990s! I can see this one similarly stretching on for years. I have far more confidence in Orbex and their spaceship and launch complex now being built in Scotland.

As for using an aircraft as the first stage to send spacecraft into orbit, this was extensively discussed by the aircraft designers David Ashcroft and Patrick Collins in their book Your Spaceflight Manual: How You Could Be A Tourist in Space Within Twenty Years (London: Headline 1990). After discussing some of the classic spaceplane concepts of the past, like the XIB rocket plane and the Dynosoar, they also describe the design by the French aerospace company, Dassault, of 1964-7. This would have consisted of a supersonic jet capable of reaching Mach 4 as the first stage. The second stage would have been a rocket which would have flown at Mach 8, and used fuel from the first stage launcher. The whole vehicle was designed to be reusable.

The two authors also proposed their own designs for composite, two-stage spaceplanes, Spacecab and SpaceBus. These would have consisted of a jet-propelled first stage, which would piggy-back a much smaller rocket-driven orbiter. They estimated that Spacebus’ cost per flight would be higher than that of a 747, but much, much less than the space shuttle. It would be an estimated $250,000 against the Shuttle’s $300 million. Space bus was designed to carry 50 passengers, at a cost to each of $5,000. The pair also estimated that it would need $2bn to fund the development of a prototype Spacecab, and believed that the total development cost would be $10bn, the same as the similar Sanger concept then being developed in Germany. Although expensive, this would have been less than the $20bn set aside for the construction of the Freedom Space Station.

It’s a pity Ashcrofts and Collins’ spaceplane was not developed, though hardly unsurprising. Space research is very expensive, and the British government has traditionally been very reluctant to spend anything on space research since the cancellation of Black Arrow in 1975. The pair were also writing at the end of the 1980s, when there was little interest in the private development of spaceflight. This changed with the X-Prize in the 1990s so that we now have several private space companies, such as Elon Musk’s and Jeff Bezos’ outfits, competing to develop launchers, as well as Orbex. Hopefully, sooner or later, someone will start taking paying passengers into space and developing space industry. But somehow I doubt it’ll be Branson.

More Lies and Disinformation about Roswell: Crash Hoaxed with Victims of Nazi and Japanese Human Experiments

September 15, 2019

There’s some very nasty lies – at least, I sincerely hope they’re lies – being put about by someone about the notorious Roswell UFO crash. This was the incident in 1947 when a UFO supposedly crashed on Mac Brazell’s ranch in Roswell, New Mexico. The US army came to investigate and collect the debris. The USAF then released a statement by Major Quantanilla that they had recovered a ‘flying disc’. This story was then changed the next day, or a few days later, to a tale that they had in fact recovered a weather balloon, with Quantanilla shown holding up its foil remains. That, more or less, is what is known for sure. However, local people continued to believe very strongly that an alien space vehicle had crashed near their town. In 1980 Charles Berlitz and another researcher published a book claiming that this was the true. This was followed by even more books claiming that not only had a UFO crashed, but alien bodies had been recovered and removed to Wright-Patterson AFB for analysis and dissection. There was also one alien survivor, who was also taken by the Air Force. This in turn spawned the infamous Alien autopsy hoax video created by pop producer Ray Santilli and shown around the world. Which in turn inspired the British SF comedy, Alien Autopsy, starring those lovable funsters Ant and Dec, now appearing on Britain’s Got Talent.

Since then there have been a number of theories and highly dubious claims about what really happened at Roswell. And one of these stories is extremely nasty, and, in my view, grossly offensive. It’s that the crash was a deliberate fake, using children or handicapped adults, who had been experimented upon by Nazi, Japanese, Russian and American scientists, as part of a Cold War plot.

Annie Jacobsen and the Joe Rogan Experience

A few days ago I discovered this video from the Joe Rogan Experience, put up on YouTube on 18th May 2019. In it, Rogan, the host, talks to the journo Annie Jacobsen, about the claims in her new book that American scientists working for the military surgically altered children to look like aliens as part of a Cold War campaign of disinformation against the Soviets. The Russians had supposedly tried to fake a UFO encounter using children mutilated by the Nazis, and the Americans were experimenting to see how the Russians did it.

Rogan’s sceptical about the whole tale. He states that he knows people in the armed forces, and they will spin stories to get people going. And I share Rogan’s scepticism. This seems to be simply the latest version of a series of claims that the crash was faked using children operated upon by the Nazis, Japanese and Russians.

Redfern’s Account of the Russian Hoax Landing

A few days ago the Magonia website published my review of Nick Redfern’s Flying Saucers from the Kremlin: UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets. In it, Redfern discusses similar claims made by Jacobsen in an earlier book, published in 2011, Area 51. Based on information supplied by an anonymous informant, she claims that the Roswell Crash was a failed attempt to fake a UFO landing by the-then dictator of the USSR, Joe Stalin. The flying saucer was based on the tailless aircraft designed by the Nazi aeroengineers, the Horten brothers. The aliens were really children surgically altered by the Nazi doctor and war criminal, Josef Mengele. The mysterious hieroglyphs seen on some of the saucer remains was really Cyrillic, the Russian alphabet. Jacobsen doesn’t name her source, but another investigator, Tony Bragaglia, claims that he was Alfred O’Donnell, an elite engineer from EG&G, the leading designer and contractor of federal classified facilities in the US. Redfern then states that he was told practically the same story from a former employee of Area 51, which he published in his 2010 book, The NASA Conspiracies. This source claimed that physically altered people had been flown from Russia to the US aboard a bizarre-looking aircraft in order to convince Americans that their country was being invaded by aliens.

Redfern and Japanese Human Experiments at Roswell

In an earlier version of this tale, also published by Redfern five years earlier, the object that crashed at Roswell was a massive balloon based on Japanese technology, which carried a manned glider. This contained a pilot, and a group of handicapped Japanese. Suffering from diseases such as dwarfism and progeria – rapid aging – they had been brought to the US from the Japanese Unit 731, the infamous Japanese military unit responsible for experiments on humans. These experiments were every bit as sick and horrific as Mengele’s and the Nazis’. A little while ago one of the Horror blogs reviewed a film someone had made about the Unit’s atrocities in Japanese-occupied China and Mongolia during the Second World War. The film claimed to be recreations of real experiments. From reading the review, I decided it was definitely one to miss. Apparently the victims of the Roswell and similar crashes were being used as guinea pigs to assess the effects of exposure to high altitude and radiation.

Redfern’s book, Body Snatchers in the Desert: the Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story (Paraview Pocket Books 2005), was reviewed by Magonia in issue 89, August 2005. Their review concluded that it wasn’t a story that should be accepted or rejected out of hand, but was worth the attention of properly qualified reporters and investigators, and would gain in stature if someone, particularly outside Ufology, would come forward to corroborate it. Or if a whistleblower also came forward, and they brought with them evidence and documentation.

The Magonia article notes that there were unethical experiments conducted by the American state, like the MKUltra drug experiments and the infamous Tuskeegee syphilis experiments on Black sharecroppers. They also mention here the scandal of the British state sending ‘orphaned’ children to be used as slave labour in Canada and Australia. However these conspiracies are backed up by genuine evidence and documentation. But there’s none here. Only people walking up to Redfern at UFO conferences. Magonia says of this

Assuming that these people exist and are who they say they are, then the fact the people on two continents approach Redfern with more or less similar stories suggests either that rumours along these lines have been around for some time and are being ussed as the basis of stories, that the stories are to some degree at least true, or that Redfern is being set up by someone or other. 

My guess is that they’re either just rumours, which people are turning into stories, or that Redfern and Jacobsen have been set up.

The Problem of Age and Memory

In the above interview, Rogan does ask Jacobsen if the people telling her these tales weren’t lying. She replies that her informant was a 95 year-old man, who broke down crying in front of his wife of 65 years, because he was so ridden with guilt at his complicity in the atrocity. She asks him in turn how this could happen if the story wasn’t true.

The problem with this is the same that Magonia also pointed out affected the testimony of other witnesses to the supposed Roswell crash, people who believed they’d seen alien bodies. They were very elderly, sometimes quite frail, and the family of one man said that his mind and memory were prone to deceive him. It’s quite possible that this has happened here and that the whole story is a confabulation by a man, who is clearly upset and disturbed about something in his career, but whose mind has constructed a false story about why. On the other hand, it could also very well be that this entire story is simply malign twaddle dreamed up by someone. It could be the government trying to hide a genuine mystery, or it could simply be private citizens laughing at the gullibility of the public, who have somehow pulled this bloke into their fantasies.

The Weekly World News and the Nazi Saucer Myth

These tales also seem to resemble and draw on a version of the Nazi saucer myth published in the Weekly World News on 27th January 1981. The Weekly World News was an American supermarket tabloid newspaper, and gave us such brilliant investigative reports such as ‘Mom was bigfoot, says beastie man’. This reported the claim of Olav Meyer, a German geologist living in Seville, Spain, that the UFOs were developed by the Nazis, but not actually used because Hitler preferred the V2. The article claimed that this had been corroborated by another journalist and investigator, Christof Friedrich, of Toronto. According to Friedrich, the Germans were working on flying saucers, but were unable to develop them because of a shortage of raw materials. Friedrich also said that he had learned from Major Donald Keyhoe that the Americans had seen troops into Germany to recover the saucer scientists, but that they had escaped to Russia instead. Both Meyer and Friedrich cited a book, published in the 1950s by Rudolph Lazar, which supposedly showed the Nazis were developing flying saucers.

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1O8DAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Lazar’s book is notorious. Although the WWN article claims that Lazar was a scientist, he was really a former German army officer. His book was about supposed German super weapons developed during the War, which included flying saucers. It’s one of the major sources for the Nazi saucer myth, which returned once again to haunt Ufology back in the 1990s. Apart from ordinary people, who have been taken by this rubbish, the myth seems to be pushed by Nazis trying to create some kind of spurious glamour about the Third Reich. As it developed, the Nazi saucer squadron was supposed to have escaped the allies, establishing a secret base out in the Canadian arctic. They then moved down to Antarctica, which is why the Americans also have a base down there. The video UFO Secrets of the Third Reich, produced by Royal Atlantis Films in the 1990s, also claimed that they were built following instructions channelled through a medium from an alien civilisation around the star Aldebaran. The Nazi saucer myth also formed the basis for the SF comedy, The Iron Sky, in which a female American president, who resembles Sarah Palin, starts a war with a Nazi colony on the Moon. Magonia published a series of articles attacking the Nazi saucer myth. Kevin McClure, a long-time investigator of the paranormal, also published a very well researched piece very effectively demolishing it.

I find the Nazi saucer myth vile and distasteful, if not dangerous for the way it seeks to promote and glamorize the Nazis. And the stories of maimed and disfigured people used to impersonate aliens seems to me to be a kind of blasphemy against the real victims of Nazi and Japanese experimentation.

I have no idea whether these stories are some kind of government/ state disinformation campaign, or simply private hoaxers. But I don’t doubt for a single minute that they’re lies that should be discarded. Until someone involved comes forward bringing real evidence and supporting documents, at least.

Trump Post-Brexit Trade Deal Will Bring Hardly Any Real Benefits

August 14, 2019

This is very revealing. According to the BBC World Service, a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and America would only increase the economy by 0.1%. And that would be 15 years from now.

As the Skwawkbox and Mike over at Vox Political have both pointed out, this means that the Tories will have sold Trump and the American companies backing him our NHS, workers’ rights, and environmental and consumer protections for hardly anything. In fact, Mike points out that even the 0.1% growth may not happen, as the economy is already faltering, and so any gains made later may be swallowed up by the losses that are occurring now.

This is despite yesterday’s Times enthusiastically hyping Trump’s offer of a trade deal with America. Zelo Street effectively ripped that piece of propaganda apart by pointing out that we would only get the deal if we became America’s poodle, a point that was also made by one of the columnists in today’s I. The Sage of Crewe also refuted what Trump’s negotiator, John Bolton, and the Times clearly thought would be an attractive demonstration of the deal’s benefits. Bolton stated that it would be easy to make such deals quickly for manufacturing and industry, but that service sector would take a bit longer. Nevertheless, next year could see cheap American cars coming into Britain. The Sage of Crewe pointed out the other side of the coin: British cars would be undercut by cheap American imports.

I can remember when something similar happened to the motorcycle industry with the Japanese way back in the 1990s. This was when the Japanese economy started contracting and there wasn’t quite so much a market for their bikes. Their solution was to start exporting cheap bikes to Britain, which would undercut our own, domestically made machines. Even those produced by Japanese manufacturers over here. As you might expect, British bike manufacturers, including the management of Japanese companies over here, were extremely upset and started arranging meetings about what they could do about this threat to British industry and jobs. I’d be interested to hear if British car firms are planning something similar to combat the similar threat John Bolton is making to them. But guessing from the glowing way the Times was pushing Trump’s grotty trade deal, I doubt we’d read of one in that Murdoch rag.

But the Americans would wait until after Brexit before requiring us to fall in line with their policy over Iran and the involvement of the Chinese firm Huawei in the 5G network.

Put simply, this deal would make us into America’s poodle. We’d have our industries and agriculture picked off by the Americans for their benefit, as the Zelo Street article also points out. He also states that Bolton is lying through his teeth about Congress easily passing such a deal. Congress’ Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has said that it won’t pass any deal unless the Good Friday Agreement is honoured.

The Zelo Street article concludes by stating that BoJob loves to say that Britain is a vassal state of the EU, but doesn’t mention how this deal would make us a vassal state of America by the back door.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/us-trade-deal-if-well-be-their-poodle.html

And Mike and the Skwawkbox point out how the BBC hid the news that Trump’s deal would bring hardly any benefits to Britain by putting on the World Service. This is the Beeb’s service for the rest of the world, not Britain. Presumably the people actually affected by it don’t count. Mike concludes in his turn that its shows once again that the Beeb is the Tories’ propaganda arm, and wonders if Ofcom are aware of it?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/14/boris-johnson-would-sell-out-our-nhs-and-our-rights-to-trumps-us-for-practically-nothing/

I’m not surprised by any of this. The Americans were less than altruistic in the deals they made for their entry into the Second World War. They drove a very hard bargain with us after the War. They and the Russians both wanted the dismemberment of the British Empire so that their goods could be allowed into our former colonies. It was also thanks to their demands for payment that Newfoundland became a province of Canada. Before then it was another British colony. However, we had to give it, or sell it to the Canadians in order to raise the money to pay the Americans.

I’ve also met former members of the aircraft industry, who were also very bitter at the way America had demanded cutting edge technical information from this sector after the War. The Americans’ breaking of the sound barrier by the X-1 rocket plane, flown by Chuck Yeager, was a tremendous achievement. But it was solidly based on British research, some of which was, in its turn, based on captured German material. But the British project had to be closed down and its results and information handed over to the Americans as part of their price for coming to our aid.

Counterpunch and some of the American left-wing news sites on YouTube have also pointed out that the lend-lease arrangements under the Marshal Plan also weren’t altruistic. This was the American economic scheme to build Europe and the rest of the free world up after the War using economic aid. But there were also strings attached, which meant that the aid went chiefly to American companies.

You can conclude from this that the American state and capitalism drives a very hard bargain, and that such deals are very one-sided. As many left-wing sites have argued over and over again in their discussion of the ‘Special Relationship’. Which actually means far less to the Americans than it does to us. That was shown very clearly by Clinton’s reaction to German unification. This made Germany the strongest economy in Europe, and Clinton showed, as Beeb newsman John Sargeant managed to get the Prime Minister to acknowledge, that Germany was now America’s most important partner in Europe, not Britain.

And I’m also not surprised at the Tories and Murdoch ardently supporting this sell-out of our country. The Tories admire American capitalism and its lack of worker protection and welfare state. I can remember previous episodes where the Americans were promising a better economic deal if we abandoned Europe and joined them. And the Tories cheering such schemes nearly always owned businesses in America. And in fact, as far back as 1925 the Tories, or a section of them, were forming plans for the political reunion of Britain and the US.

And that shows exactly what Johnson and the Tories are like. Now and in the past, and I’ve no doubt in the future, they are willing to sell out British industry, the welfare state, our precious NHS and workers, all in return for the victory of unfettered capitalism and their squalid economic gain.

Two Books Showing Bristol Has Not Kept Secret Its Involvement in the Slave Trade

June 6, 2019

The week before last, Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns was in Bristol, examining its history in the Georgian period. The show’s presented by Dr. Alice Roberts, who I believe is the Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham University. She’s had a long career in television presenting programmes on archaeology, history and human evolution, beginning in the 1980s with Time Team. She’s a medical doctor, who I believe also taught anatomy at Bristol University. She regularly appeared on Time Team to give her opinion on any human remains that were recovered during their escavations.

Channel 4’s ‘Britain’s Most Historic Towns’

Time Team was finally cancelled after a very successful run several years ago, but like its presenter Tony Robinson, Roberts has continued fronting history and archaeology programmes. Each week the show visits a different British town and explores a specific period of its history. Roberts tours the town, talking to experts on its history and architecture during the period, and very often tries on the ladies’ costume at the time. Last year among the various towns the series covered was Cheltenham during its heyday as a regency spa. This year’s series started off with Dover, concentrating on it history during World War II. Last week it was looking at Cardiff in the early part of the 20th century, when the city became the major centre of the global coal industry. And the week before that they were in Bristol, telling its history during the Georgian period. Roberts has a personal connection to the city, as it’s her home town and she went to school here. She also had a personal connection to Cardiff, as it was at its university that she studied medicine.

Georgian Bristol

During the Georgian period – the age of the four Georges, from the early 18th century to the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 – Bristol was one of the leading cities in Britain. It’s a port, whose location on the Bristol Channel gave it an excellent position for trading with Africa and America. The programme covered other aspects of Bristol’s history during the period, like the emergence of gin, the 1827 massacre by the army in Queen’s Square in Redcliffe of a mob demanding electoral reform, and the development of the Clifton and Hotwells suburbs as genteel residential areas for the city’s new mercantile elite. But Bristol’s wealth at the time was largely produced from the immense profits from the slave trade. Ships from Bristol took trade goods down to west Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. These were then taken to the West Indies to be sold, and the ships returned to Bristol with West Indian goods like sugar and rum in what has become known as the triangular trade. And it was on this aspect of Bristol’s Georgian history that the programme concentrated.

The show is well done and the research is very thorough. Among those Roberts talked to was Dr. Steve Poole, a lecturer at the University of the West of England; a member of Bristol’s Radical History Group, who talked about the Queen’s Square Massacre; and a couple of distillers, who showed her how 18th century gin was made. She also talked to Dr. Edson Burnett about the slave trade, going through some of the ledgers left by the slavers itemising their ships’ human cargo in the city archives. Some of these are really shocking. They simply give the number of slaves shipped aboard, and the deaths during the voyage. Those taken were simply items of merchandise, with no names. The ledgers give brief descriptions of those who died and how the body was disposed of. They were simply thrown over the side. One of the most horrendous incidents was the scandal surrounding the Zong, a slave ship, which threw its entire cargo of slaves overboard during a storm, and then tried to sue the insurance company for compensation for them as lost cargo. It’s a horrific atrocity and injustice. She also mentioned how a number of plays were written during the 18th century attacking the slave trade, many of which were set in Bristol. She then spoke to the writer and artistic director of a modern play about the trade being staged by Bristol’s historic Old Vic theatre.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

The programme’s coverage of Bristol’s history during the period was fair, although there was much obviously left out because of the constraints of the programme’s length. It’s an hour long, and it could easily take that long to discuss the city’s involvement with the slave trade and some of the architecture that was built for the merchants involved in the trade. As it was, the programme showed only one of them, the house of George Pinney, a 19th century West India planter and merchant. This is now a museum, the Georgian House, open to the public in one of the streets just off Park Street. However, Roberts opened the discussion of the city’s complicity in the slave trade with a statement that was simply wrong. She said that it was a terrible secret.

Exhibitions

Well, if Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade is a secret, then it’s a very badly kept one! Bristol’s M Shed museum, which takes visitors through the city’s history and some of its industries, including aircraft and motor vehicles built here, has a display on the slave trade. This shows not only slave manacles and the manillas, bracelet-like items used for barter, but also maps of homes and other properties owned and occupied by the slave merchants and plantation owners. This follows an earlier exhibit at the City Museum in Queen Street, ‘A Respectable Trade’, which was timed to coincide with the TV series of that name on BBC 1, based on the book by historical novelist Philippa Gregory. The book and TV series were about the slave trade, and much of it was set in the Bristol of the time. The exhibition was staged by local council and showed the historical reality on which the fiction was based. Gregory also appeared in a TV programme at the time, exploring the city’s connection to the slave trade, in which she spoke to several Black anti-racist activists.

Books and Pamphlets

Since then there have been a number of books published on Bristol and the slave trade. The city library has published a catalogue of books and other materials it holds on the subject.  There has also been a book published on the City in 1807, the year in which the slave trade was officially prohibited throughout the British Empire. Dr. Madge Dresser, a historian at the University of the West of England, has also published a book, Slavery Obscured, on the persistence of the slave trade after its formal abolition, in which merchants from Bristol were involved. And back in the 1990s the local branch of the Historical Association published a booklet on Bristol’s Black population in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Society of Merchant Venturers, the mercantile organisation that dominated Bristol’s trade in that period, has also published a catalogue of its holdings, which included it’s members’ plantations in the West Indies.

Origin of Belief Bristol Keeping Slave Trade Connection Secret

I’ve been told by members of the city’s Black cultural and anti-racist organisations that the idea that the city council is somehow covering up the city’s involvement in the slave trade dates from the 1970s. A member of the community rang the council up to inquire about what they knew about Bristol and the slave trade, only to be told that the city wasn’t involved in it. Which is wrong. I wonder if the person, who answered the call genuinely didn’t know about Bristol’s history of slaving. But whatever the reality, this planted the idea that the city council was deliberating hiding the truth. I think it was partly to dispel this idea that the City Museum staged the 1995 exhibition.

Two Books on Bristol from the 1950s and 1970s

But even before then, the city’s involvement in the slave trade was known and discussed. For example, the book Bristol and Its Adjoining Counties, edited by C.M. MacInnes and W.F. Whittard, and published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955, has several pages on the slave trade in the chapter by MacInnes, ‘Bristol and Overseas Expansion’, pp. 219-230.

The 1975 textbook, Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey, published by Georges, also covers the slave trade in its chapter on city’s 18th century trade, pp. 31-2. All the chapters are a page or so in length, with another page suggesting projects or containing questions for students on that period of the city’s history. The paragraph on the slave trade runs

Unfortunately, Bristol was better known at this time for its links with the slave trade. The “Blackbirds” sailed to Africa with various goods, exchanged them for slaves which were then shipped to the West Indies or North America. The ships then returned home iwth sugar and tobacco, the whole “Triangular Trade” bringing enormous profits to many Bristol merchants. Before 1760, Bristol carried about one-third of all the slaves, but this number died away by the end of the century as the anti-slavery movement made progress. (p. 31).

Few Obvious Monuments to Slave Trade in City

I also think that part of this misconception may come from the fact that there are few monuments from the time that obviously have direct connections to the slave trade. When I was studying archaeology at Bristol, one of the foreign students on the archaeology course complained to one of the lecturers that her housemate believed Bristol was racist, because there were no monuments for the slaves. The housemate was another foreign student, from Guiana, where I believe the buildings for landing and sale of slaves still exist. I think the student expected similar buildings to exist in Bristol. But they don’t, as the bulk of the city’s slave trade was with the West Indies. There were slaves in Bristol, but these were brought to the city as personal servants, rather than imported en masse as they were in the Caribbean.

Historic Buildings and Later Monuments Connected to Slaves and Slave Trade

However, there are architectural hints at the city’s connection to the slave trade all around. The city’s merchants decorated the exterior of their homes with carvings symbolising their connection to Africa or the Caribbean, such as pineapples. There are also coloured statues, representing the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas in St. Nicholas Market, one of which is a Black African. And several of the city’s pubs also claim a direct connection to the trade. The Ostrich, one of the pubs on the harbourside, had a cellar, in which, it was claimed, slaves were held ready for sale. When I used to drink there in the 1990s there was a poster up about it, along with reproductions of the advertisements of the time for runaway slaves. However, it may be the reality here was more prosaic. The 1995 exhibition said that many the connection of many of parts of Bristol to the slave trade may just be urban folklore. Blackboy Hill, for example, is probably not named after a slave boy, but possibly a racehorse owned by Charles II. The city has also made other gestures to commemorating the victims of the slave trade. There’s a slave walk along Bristol’s docks, and a plaque put up to those enslaved by city on one of the former warehouses by M Shed. A remarkable bridge built across the docks in the 1990s, which features two horn-like constructions, has been called ‘Pero’s Bridge’, after one of the slaves imported into Bristol. And there is a gravestone for Scipio, an African slave brought to the city by his master in one of the city’s churchyards.

Bristol has a very rich and fascinating history, of which the slave trade is one part. It’s a history that definitely needs to be told. And it has only been within the last quarter century or so that the slave trade has been memorialised in local museums, not just in Bristol, but also elsewhere. Bristol has joined Liverpool and Nantes in France in creating exhibitions and galleries on its involvement in the trade. Before then it’s fair to say that City Museum did not display anything on the slave trade. It was a period of the city’s history that most Bristolians probably would have preferred not to commemorate, but it was never forgotten nor kept hidden.

 

African Drone with Pilot/Passenger

December 16, 2018

Yesterday I put up a piece I found on YouTube of a group of Kenyan engineers building what they believed to be Africa’s first passenger-carrying drone. The video showed them testing it in flight loaded with bags of sugar.

This short video from Sami’s channel on YouTube shows the machine in flight, carrying a passenger. The film begins with the team thanking the governor of Nairobi, Mike Sonko, before showing the flight. The man himself wasn’t terribly happy in the air, as a caption reads that it was only then that they realized he was frightened of heights.

The photo of the team at the end shows that the majority of its members are Black Africans, but there’s also a White guy and an Asian.

As I said in my earlier post about the vehicle, this shows the immense creativity of the people of Africa, a creativity that is being held back due to the continent’s poverty and kleptocratic politicians. If these could be overcome, and the continent reach the same stage of develop as the industrial West, we would be astonished at what they could achieve. This video offers a glimpse of the massive potential waiting to be unlocked.

Africans Build Passenger Carrying Drone

December 15, 2018

This is great stuff! It’s from Stiv M’s channel on YouTube, and shows a group of Kenyan engineers testing what they hope will be the first passenger-carrying drone in Africa. It’s a large vehicle powered by four small propellers, rather like fans, mounted at each corner. To test its ability to carry weights, the crew load it with bags of sugar.

To my mind, this shows the immense creativity that’s locked away in the African people. At the moment, the continent’s poverty and lack of technological development is stifling the immense potential that’s clearly there. If the continent was as developed as the industrial north, who knows what they could achieve?

The British newsreader, George Alagiah, grew up in Ghana. He says in his autobiography that at the time he was there, it was confidently expected that the first non-western nation in space would be Ghana, not India. Sadly, it hasn’t happened. But the spirit and inventiveness is clearly there.

Scientists Invent Ion-Driven ‘Star Trek’ Plane

November 23, 2018

This is a fascinating piece from yesterday’s I newspaper, for the 22nd November 2018. It reports that Dr. Steven Barrett and his team at MIT have built an airplane that flies through channeling air underneath its wings using electrically charged wires hung below them.

The article, by John von Radowitz, on page 13, reads

A revolutionary electronic aircraft propulsion system inspired by Star Trek has been tested on a working model for the first time.

The five-metre wingspan glider-like plane has no propellers, turbines or any other moving parts, and is completely silent.

Instead, an “ionic wind” of colliding electrically charged air molecules provides the thrust needed to make it fly.

In the tests, the battery-powered unmanned aircraft, that weighs just five pounds, managed sustained flights of 60m at an average height of just 0.47m.

But its inventors believe that, like the early experiments of the Wright brothers more than 100 years ago, such small beginnings will eventually transform the face of aviation.

In the near future, ion wind propulsion could be employed to power quiet drones, the team predicts.

Further down the line, the technology could be paired with more conventional propulsion systems to produce highly fuel-efficient hybrid passenger planes.

Lead researcher Dr. Steven Barret, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, said: “This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system.

“This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”

He revealed that he was partly inspi9red by the TV sci-fi series Star Trek. He was especially impressed by the show’s futuristic shuttle crafts that skimmed through the air producing hardly any noise or exhaust. “This made me think, planes shouldn’t have propellers and turbines,” said Dr. Barrett.
“They should be more like the shuttles in
Star Trek that have just a blue glow and silently glide.

The test aircraft, described in the journal Nature, carries an array of thin wires strung beneath the front end of its wings. A high-voltage current passed through the wires strips negatively charged electrons from surrounding air molecules.

This produces a cloud of positively charged ionized air molecules that are attracted to another set of negatively charged wires at the back of the plane.

As they flow towards the negative charge, the ions collide millions of times with other air molecules, creating the thrust that pushes the aircraft forward.

The article also said that

Test flights were made across the gymnasium at MIT’s duPont Athletic Centre, the largest indoor space the scientists could find.

The article also carried this diagram of the aircraft and its engine.

The illustration is entitled ‘How It Works’, and shows picture of the plane, with an arrow saying ‘Battery in fuselage’. There’s also a diagram of the electrically charged particles and the wires connected to the battery that the plane uses instead of a conventional engine.

The illustration’s notes read

Thin wires are strung under the front of the wing and thicker wires under the rear. When connected to a high voltage battery they act as electrodes. The thin positive electrode takes negatively charged electrons from air molecules, creating positive ions. The ions are attracted to the negative electrode at the rear and, as they flow towards it, they collide with neutral air molecules, creating thrust.

The plane reminds of me of the atmospheric aircraft in one of Alistair Reynold’s SF novels, Revelation Space, which fly through heating up the air below them. The propulsion system’s also related to the nuclear electric propulsion used, or proposed, for some spacecraft. This also uses an electrically charged grating to channel and increase the thrust of charged particles generated by a nuclear reactor. As I understand it, the amount of thrust generated by this type of rocket engine is small, but because it’s constant it can eventually build up over time so that the craft is flying at quite considerable speed.

An ion-driven plane is a fascinating concept, though it won’t be powering passenger craft just yet. But you wonder how many UFO sightings will be generated by the experimental and prototype craft which will be designed and built after this.

My JBIS Paper on Passenger-Rated Hobby Rockets

October 16, 2018

After the flight a few months ago of the American eccentric in his steam-powered rocket to see if the Earth really was flat, and Richard Branson’s announcement last week that he was only weeks away from sending his first tourists into space aboard his Virgin Galactic spaceplane, I thought it was time I put up a piece about a paper I had published in the Journal of British Interplanetary Society about other, passenger-carrying rockets. The paper, ‘Backyard Spaceships: Passenger-Rated Microlights for Hobby Rocketry’, argued that just as hang-gliders and microlight aircraft allowed people to enjoy the experience of flight simply for pure pleasure, so short-range passenger-carrying rockets could be developed to give people some of the experience of spaceflight. It’s quite a long and technical article, so I’ll simply quote the abstract. This runs

The FINDS and CATS prizes have introduced to contemporary astronautics the competitive spirit, which led to such spectacular advances in the fledgling aviation industry. This pioneering spirit is also shared by present day microlight aircraft enthusiasts. If the expected expansion of commercial passenger spaceflight with mass space tourism occurs, then it may create a demand for extreme short-range crewed rockets as a new form of leisure craft, Just as microlight aircraft recreate the experience of large aircraft flight on a smaller scale. If the technologies, materials and procedures used in microlight and balloon aviation are applied to those of high power solid propellant rocketry, then similar ‘microlight’ rockets able to reach altitudes of c.3,200 m, may be a possibility. Apart from the leisure and sporting opportunities offered by such craft, which would also encourage technological experimentation and progress, they would also great benefit astronautical education by adding the practical human experience of rocket flight to ground studies’ curricula. (p. 45).

The FINDS and CATS prizes were set up to encourage private organisations to develop rockets that could successfully fly into space and land again. They were deliberately established in emulation of the prizes that drove the early research into aviation and aircraft flight. These prizes were awarded in competitions for aircraft flying particular long distances, for example, and so encouraged and rewarded designers, engineers and pilots working on the designs of the planes and their engines.

A Danish organization, Copenhagen Sub-Orbitals, was also working on developing a human-carrying rocket, and have posted a few videos showing their vehicles’ test flights on YouTube. However, the last thing I read from them was that they were having difficulty making their rocket safe for humans, as the crash test dummy was always broken on landing. I don’t know whether anyone will actually go ahead and make such microlight hobby spacecraft, but the flight of the guy in his steam-powered spacecraft showed that such short-range, passenger hobby flights are possible.